Hyderabad: With a likely three-cornered contest, the by-election to Munugode Assembly seat may indicate the direction in which the wind is blowing in Telangana ahead of the Assembly elections scheduled next year.
The decision of Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy to resign both from the Congress party as well as the Assembly and switch loyalties to the BJP will pave the way for the by-election as a prelude to the big battle.
The saffron party will be looking to repeat the success of Dubbak and Huzurabad by-elections to consolidate its position in the run-up to 2023 polls.
The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is likely to go all out to halt BJP’s march. The Congress party will also be keen to regain the lost ground and gear up for the big test.
Political observers say the by-election offered another opportunity to all the three key political forces in the state to demonstrate their strength.
Given the results of four Assembly by-elections held since 2018, Munugode may be a challenge for the Congress party in its former stronghold of Nalgonda district.
With speculation doing rounds in political circles that Rajagopal Reddy’s brother and MP Venkat Reddy may also quit the Congress and join the BJP, Congress party is likely to face an acid test.
The by-election will be a litmus test personally for state Congress chief A. Revanth Reddy as Komatireddy brothers have been his bitter critics. Venkat Reddy has already taken exception to certain remarks made by Revanth Reddy while targeting his remarks and even sought an apology for him.
Under attack from his critics within the party over his style of functioning, Revanth Reddy will be under big pressure to deliver and give a befitting counter to Komatireddy brothers on their home turf.
Revanth Reddy has already come under attack from rivals within the party for failing to save party candidate’s deposit in the Huzurabad by-election. This was the first bypoll since he took over as the TPCC chief last year.
Given the significance of the Munugode by-election, the Congress party swiftly acted to hold a public meeting in the constituency. Through the meeting addressed by Revanth Reddy, the party tried to show that despite Rajagopal Reddy’s resignation the cadre remained loyal to the party.
Revanth Reddy lashed out at Rajagopal, accusing him of mortgaging the self-respect of the people of Telangana and the Congress at the feet of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
He alleged that Rajagopal Reddy is joining BJP as the saffron party has given his company contracts worth Rs 21,000 crore. “For these contracts, Rajagopal mortgaged the self-respect of the 91,000 voters who cast their votes for him, and Amma Sonia Gandhi who gave him the party ticket to contest,” he said
The public meeting was addressed by top Congress leaders K. Jana Reddy, N. Uttam Kumar Reddy, Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka and R. Damodar Reddy, Venkat Reddy was conspicuous by his absence.
Some of the Congress leaders demanded Venkat Reddy prove his loyalty by campaigning against his brother or leave the party.
Political analysts say internal differences in the party and the latest resignation by party’s national spokesman Dasoju Sravan over Revanth’s style of functioning could add to the worries of TPCC chief.
After failing to retain Huzurnagar seat in 2019 and wrest Nagarjuna Sagar from TRS last year, the Congress party is desperate for a win.
The by-election in Huzurnagar was caused by the resignation of Uttam Kumar Reddy after he was elected to Lok Sabha in 2019 while Nagarjuna Sagar seat fell vacant after the demise of sitting legislator of TRS. Both the seats were won by the TRS.
The Congress party, which lost a dozen MLAs to TRS after 2018 elections, fared badly in the by-elections for Dubbak and Huzurabad, which were wrested by BJP from TRS.
BJP’s Raghunandan Rao had won Dubbak in 2020 by a narrow margin of 1,079 votes against TRS candidate S. Sujatha, widow of S. Ramalinga Reddy whose death had caused the by-poll. BJP had polled 63,352 votes while the TRS secured 62,273 votes. The Congress’ Cheruku Srinivas Reddy finished third with 22,196 votes.
In the 2018 elections, TRS had won the seat by a margin of 62,500 votes. The Congress had finished runners-up with 26,799 votes while the BJP’s Raghunandan Rao came third with 22,595 votes.
This victory gave new confidence to the BJP, which had won just one seat in the 119-member Assembly in the 2018 elections.
The saffron party started projecting itself as the only viable alternative to TRS. However, the party suffered a humiliating defeat in Nagarjuna Sagar in May last year. TRS retained the seat with its candidate Nomula Bhagat defeating veteran Congress leader K. Jana Reddy by over 18,000 votes.
The TRS candidate polled 89,804 votes while Jana Reddy secured 70,932 votes. BJP’s Ravi Kumar Naik could get only 7,676 votes and forfeited his deposit.
However, the BJP received a shot in the arm after Eatala Rajender joined its rank after he was dropped from the state Cabinet by Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao following allegations that he encroached lands of some farmers. Rajender resigned from the Huzurabad seat and contested the by-election as BJP candidate.
Riding on the popularity of Rajender in the constituency, BJP won the by-election, dealing a big blow to TRS.
Rajender defeated his nearest rival Gellu Srinivas Yadav of TRS by 24,068 votes. Rajender polled 1,06,780 votes while Srinivas Yadav secured 82,712 votes. The Congress party candidate garnered only 3,012 votes and lost the deposit.
It was a disaster for the Congress, which had secured 47,803 votes in 2018, to finish runners-up.
BJP now hopes that like Rajender, Rajagopal Reddy will give the party a big victory in Munugode to bolster its prospects in the next year’s elections.
Given the significance of the by-election for their Mission 2023, the saffron party is likely to rope in top Central leaders. The conduct of the party’s national executive in Hyderabad last month and a massive public meeting addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, BJP President J.P. Nadda has already boosted the morale of BJP cadres in the state.
Sensing a real chance to turn Telangana as its second gateway to South India after Karnataka, the BJP is likely to go all out for a win in Munugode.
The ruling TRS, on the other hand, will be looking to stop the saffron march. Learning from the mistakes in Dubbaka and Huzurabad, the TRS is likely to come out with a new strategy.